PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers today announced that John Spencer has been relieved of his duties as head coach with the club. Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson will take over as interim head coach for the club, effective immediately, while the team conducts a search for a long-term replacement. Timbers owner/president Merritt Paulson made the announcements at a news conference at JELD-WEN Field Monday afternoon.
“Obviously, this is a tough announcement,” Paulson said. “I want to thank John Spencer for his significant contributions to the Timbers. Our focus now is on improving the team and finding the right long-term head coach.”
Wilkinson, 38, has been with the Timbers organization since its inaugural United Soccer Leagues season in 2001. In his 12 years with the club, Wilkinson has served as a player, assistant coach, head coach and general manager. Paulson appointed Wilkinson as the team’s first Major League Soccer general manager on Jan. 18, 2010. Wilkinson will continue in his role as general manager while serving as interim coach for the remainder of the season.
WATCH: Press Conference replay
As a head coach with the USL Timbers, Wilkinson assembled a 50-29-39 record and twice was named USL First Division Coach of the Year (2007, 2009) in four seasons (2007-10) at the helm of the second-division club. He guided the Timbers to three postseason berths, two Cascadia Cups (2009, 2010) and a Commissioner’s Cup in 2009, a season in which he led the team to a record-setting, 24-game unbeaten streak.
Wilkinson’s 13-year playing career included time with clubs in six different countries, including Portugal, Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. A New Zealand native, Wilkinson earned 38 caps with the New Zealand National Team and competed in the 1999 and 2003 FIFA Confederations Cups. A defender, Wilkinson played for the Timbers in each of their first six USL seasons (2001-06) and served the dual role of player/assistant coach for two seasons (2005-06) before taking over as the team’s general manager and head coach in 2007.
Spencer, 41, was appointed as the first head coach in Timbers’ MLS history on Aug. 10, 2010, after spending the majority of the previous five seasons (2006-10) as an assistant coach for the Houston Dynamo of MLS. In 51 MLS matches at the helm of the Timbers, Spencer compiled a record of 16 wins, 22 losses and 13 draws over one-and-a-half seasons. A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Spencer led the Timbers to an 11-14-9 record during their inaugural MLS season in 2011, including a 9-5-3 record at home. This season, Portland is 5-8-4 through its first 17 games, sitting in eighth place in the Western Conference.
Full statement from Merritt Paulson from today’s news conference:
I am here today to announce that John Spencer is no longer the head coach of the Portland Timbers.
I want to start by thanking John for his significant contributions to the club and the broader Portland community. John’s charisma is second to none and we could not have asked for a better ambassador for the game of soccer as we made our launch into MLS. We had a terrific record last year as an expansion team under John and he provided us with some amazing moments and memories that will forever be a positive part of our MLS history.
I cannot stress enough that this is not an announcement I expected to make a year and a half into our MLS existence. We have a very young team and had a first-time head coach. Building something of quality takes time and patience. I strongly believe any coach needs an adequate runway to be properly evaluated and that too many owners make coaching changes hastily. Given our record last season and the fact we are only halfway through the 2012 campaign, there will be some on the outside who believe the decision to part ways with John is impatient. What I will say is that it is essential to me that the Portland Timbers brand be personified by continuity and commitment to long-term growth. Over time we will demonstrate that. However, I am a firm believer that when any personnel decision is made and final there is little to be gained from waiting to put it into effect.
I am not going to discuss the details of why today’s decision was reached. In general terms I will only say that some fundamental philosophical differences exist. I will offer two additional qualifiers. 1) This is not a team-record driven decision. While it is fair to say the likelihood of us making this announcement while sitting atop of the Western Conference standings would be low, there are scenarios where we could have a worse record than we do and John Spencer would still be the Portland Timbers coach. 2) This decision has zero to do with integrity and ethics. John has great character and is one of the most honest people I know.
Filling in for John for the remainder of the 2012 season will be Gavin Wilkinson, who will serve as both the GM and the Head Coach for this interim period. I am a strong believer in the importance of separating the coach and GM role in the long term and Gavin will assist me in locating a permanent head coaching replacement, who will likely be announced sometime this offseason.
It is very important for me to stress that Gavin has always been John’s No. 1 supporter. Gavin has preached patience from the get go here and ensuring John’s success has been a primary goal of his. It will be asking much of Gavin to be both coach and GM for the rest of the season and he does not have sights on the long-term coaching job.
We expect the rest of the coaching staff to remain intact, with one addition to be announced shortly.
We are not, by any means, waving a white flag for 2012 here. There are still many games to play and we continue to have high expectations for the Timbers this season.
I want to close by once again thanking John Spencer for his significant contribution to the Portland Timbers.